Georgess Méliès – The Father of Special Effects


Sometimes history progresses through rejections. Tracing the lineage of the film history next to Lumiére brothers naturally one has to stop to visit Georgess Méliès (1861-1938). Méliès, the son of a shoemaker, dreamed of learning painting and he wanted to be an artist. But his father denial to assist him financially made him to end up in their shoe factory. HE was also fond of stage magic and he learned magic tricks from famous illusionist Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, who found his genuine interest and obliged to have him as an assiatant, in his theatre (Robert-Houdin). Thus Méliès became a showman.

He was not just a showman but a man of multiple talents. He was capable of dancing,singing acting and had filled his shows with wider varieties. While the offer to buy Robert-Houdin theatre he didn’t want to miss the offer. He sold his shares of the factory to his brothers and with all his savings bought the theatre. He wanted his shows to be interesting and unique beating the regular items. He had pantomimes and even an automaton performance between his magic shows. Instead of performing the known tricks he invented many, himself. The versatility and novelty no wonder grabbed public attention in a short time and his audience multiplied.


His popularity soared among the public and fellow illusionists were also attracted to him. He was even elected the president of the Syndicate of Illusion Artists in 1895, which serves as an apt testimony for his fame, then. All was going well, but over time Méliès realized that audience attendance was falling steadily for his shows. He wanted something new to get back his viewers. He was among the audience for the Lumiére’s celebrated first demonstration of Kinetoscope. The sight of moving images hit him hard and his enthusiasm to make such by himself began to intensify. He was so obsessed with the moving images that drove him to the Lumiére brothers with 10,000 francs to buy a camera from them. The brothers who were gaining momentum in their business, busy claiming the ladder of glory simply rejected him, along with many others.

Georges couldn’t bear this rejection. His was deeply hurt from it and pledged to make something and become the direct competitor in the show business. He even made a camera by himself and set up his own studio in Montreuil, outskirts of Paris, gambling all his wealth. His earlier films were just imitation of his stage magic ticks shot in camera. In a way they were in no way different from those made by Lumiére’s then, except for the tricks involved in the later. Being a showman Méliès was exceptionally good in his knowledge on the changing trends of audience’s expectations and the ways to cater them. It was this expertise that made him unique. His inventive making and experimentalism in filmmaking not only gave him a career boost but also gifted the world of Cinema with bountiful techniques that are to be utilized forever by the film makers.

Montreuil Studio

Montreuil Studio

He started his own ‘Star Film Company’ and went on to make films in plenty. His works became popular across Europe and especially in America. His films were targeted for piracy top on the list. To have a check on this he sent his brother to look after the distribution of his films in US. Between 1896 and 1913 he made a total of 531 films, though many were tricky magic like the ones he performed on stage. To make his works unique and outstanding he invented a variety of film making techniques. Some of the most famous technical effects that are credited to him are multiple exposures, time lapse photography, dissolves, Stop-trick. He was the first to use them in his films. That is why he is remembered today despite forgetting his films.

Although Méliès wanted to concentrate more on the special effects that he created for his films, he is also remembered for one more thing that proved to be the phenomenal turning point in the History of Cinema. We shall discuss it in the next post.

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